The classical limit equilibrium methods are suspected to be ineffective in predicting the potential for highwall failure in many instances in coal mines around the world. Slope engineers have for many years recognized a block thrust failure mechanism for slope failures, but little work had been done before 2000 to explain the
actual mechanisms which must be responsible for the failure. The main reason for this is that limit equilibrium methods implicitly assume rigid blocks, and the resulting force equations must be
satisfied everywhere simultaneously for them to have any meaning. This paper will show that the material involved in the slope failure is not rigid; indeed it undergoes considerable permanent
deformation during failure. This observation allows the authors to treat the block boundaries independently, because they need not maintain a constant spatial relationship with one another, as is assumed in other methods. To enable analysis of this type the authors assume that the weight of the blocks is evenly distributed. This is reasonable, because the slope material is not strong enough to be self-supporting without some sort of constraint, or strong enough to be able to apply point loads to the surrounding material.
The purpose of this paper is to extend the practical application of the analytical method developed from mechanism studies to provide
an objective assessment of the risk of slope failure, and therefore guidelines for more stable slope designs. This work is based on studies carried out on two failures in an open pit coal mine in South Africa, and provides a methodology to assess the potential for failure more objectively than is possible with currently accepted methods, while at the same time remaining sufficiently simple to allow a ‘back of the cigarette box’ assessment by geotechnical
engineers on site.